Saturday, January 29, 2011

Prize watch

Update; Monday:  The winner is John Vaillant, whose Golden Spruce won a GG a couple of years ago.

The British Columbia National Prize for Canadian Non-Fiction will be announced on Monday. The nominees are
Stevie Cameron, On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing Women,
James FitzGerald for What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son's Quest to Redeem the Past,
Charles Foran for Mordecai: The Life & Times,
and John Vaillant for The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival.
Not much history, but a very good list to my eye. My only beef with the BC Prize is that is is so directly political. The premier of the province sits ex-officio on the organization giving out an arts award and, even worse, he presides over the ceremony and hands over the money as if it were his. Some year some writer will have to take the hard step of refusing to be part of this blatant politicization of public support for the arts. But there's $40,000 at stake -- I wouldn't ask anyone to volunteer.

The Charles Taylor Non-Fiction Prize nominees for 2011 were announced a couple of weeks ago and the winner will be named in a couple more weeks. Striking that two different juries came up with broadly similar lists (and FitzGerald's book, on the BC list, was the Writers' Trust nonfiction award last fall. The nominee are
Stevie Cameron, On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing Women
Charles Foran, Mordecai: The Life & Times
Ross King, Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven
George Sipos, The Geography of Arrival: A Memoir
Merrily Weisbord, The Love Queen of Malabar: Memoir of a Friendship with Kamala Das

The Taylor is now in its tenth year. I thought that in its early years it was too much in love with novelists and books that looked like novels -- and that the non-fiction jury were top-heavy with novelists. They went a bit in the other direction, maybe, with a tilt to celebrity jurors and lists dominated by serious information books. This year they apparently brought back the original jury from the prize's first year. And it looks like a list admirably balanced between topical nonfiction and more purely literary nonfiction, if I can make that awkward distinction.

Ross King's is the closest to a historical title on either list, but they are writing prizes, not history prizes, and historians were doing pretty well at the Taylor in recent years, anyway.
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